Here are five good reasons not to host the Olympic Games

Cloudy skies over London 2012. Image: Getty.

The prospect of hosting any mega-event – especially the Olympic Games – is cause for serious consideration. At local, national, and international levels, the discussion takes shape around two key questions: is it worth it? And if so, for whom?

The question of worth is not limited to cost – although that certainly remains a crucial feature. Rather, there exists a series of interrelated concerns about how mega-events can disrupt cities, and distract from long-term planning agendas. Bids to host the 2024 Olympics from both Boston and Hamburg were withdrawn for such reasons. Meanwhile, Rio de Janeiro is demonstrating just how challenging preparations for the Olympic Games can be.

Here, we take a closer look at five key reasons why a city might be reluctant to host the Olympic Games.

1. Sheer cost

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Here are the estimated costs of the last four Olympics, and the projected cost of the upcoming games in Rio.

  • Sydney 2000: $4.7bn
  • Athens 2004: €9bn (nearly $10bn)
  • Beijing 2008: $42bn
  • London 2012: $11bn
  • Rio 2016: $15bn or more (over two decades following the event)

While the exact cost of any Olympics is difficult to pin down, and is often a point of contention, the last three games witnessed unparalleled public and private investment. Beijing, London and Rio have built longer term “legacy” planning into their budgets, to try to ensure that investment in hosting the games continues to pay off for years after the event.

Olympic legacies are hard to come by. Rio. Image: Dany13/Flickr.

Such legacy promises often promote infrastructure redevelopment, improved transportation systems, economic growth and job creation, projects of urban renewal and regeneration, improved physical activity participation and environmental sustainability. In Rio, planned infrastructure developments are set to continue through to 2030.

The financial undertaking for such bids – and the subsequent planning and implementation – is nothing short of enormous. Undoubtedly, the most significant cost relates to the (re)development of urban infrastructure. This leads us to our second deterrent.


2. Infrastructure challenges

Hosting a mega-event always involves urban renewal and regeneration. Yet developing the sporting stadia, accommodation and transportation networks to cope with increased numbers of tourists and athletes is anything but straightforward. Before refashioning the urban landscape, planners must know which sites are to be redeveloped, for whom, and to what end.

Clearly, catering to the demands of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is one priority – but arguably, it is the least significant. Rather, planners seek to capitalise on urban space by re-imagining the city as a recreational environment – a resource for tourism and consumerism. Retail, festival, sporting, leisure, hotel and heritage spaces are at the core of this vision.

While improvements to transportation may provide benefits to the populace, these redevelopments only offer hope for increased tourist dollars and a small number of low-paying jobs. One example is the Estádio Mario Filho (better known as the Maracanã) stadium in Rio, which underwent more than $500m in renovations ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Once cast in the populist light of the 1950s to communicate ideas of democracy, it now aims to attract a different kind of person: the consumption-oriented international tourist.

One of the central challenges of hosting any mega-event is what to do with the new infrastructure after the athletes and tourists have gone. Some host cities – such as Barcelona – have made good use of their stadia, but others are replete with white elephants. Montreal, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and Vancouver have all had their share of post-olympics venue failures.

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa offers a particularly stark warning: the stadia continue to rot from disuse. And Brazil appears destined to repeat the same mistakes, as the country struggles to find a purpose for its 2014 World Cup facilities. White elephants are highly-visible reminders that mega-events may not be worth the cost. But there’s an even more insidious side-effect which is often overlooked.

3. Human rights violations

Building new infrastructure in a city means destroying established urban areas. When that happens, local populations and communities are often dispersed and displaced.

To make way for Beijing’s 2008 Olympic infrastructure, an estimated 1.5m people were forcibly evicted from their homes with minimal compensation. The neighbourhoods were destroyed and residents removed to the outskirts of the city far from friends, family and places of work.

Not sports fans, we assume. Image: Krus Krug/Flickr/creative commons.

In Rio, the forced eviction process has taken on a militarised ethos, as Police Pacification Units (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora) try to control a number of the city’s favelas. Demolition, displacement and the razing of Unesco world heritage sites all feature in preparations for the games.

Repressive measures within China and Tibet at the 2008 games, LGBT rights issues surrounding the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and casualties on construction sites for the Qatar 2022 World Cup all point toward the persistent human rights issues which all too often accompany mega-events. Rather than representing unity and diversity, it seems as though the Olympic Games have started to signify oppression and exclusion.

4. Fear and security

In many host cities, publicly-funded yet privately-owned urban renewal projects have been leveraged to impose enhanced surveillance measures. For instance, London 2012 saw the rise of “defensible” architecture, which restricts the access and activities of those deemed “undesirable” – particularly skateboarders, protesters and the homeless – in newly-developed areas.

London’s Strand East Community – developed by Vastint Holding, IKEA’s holding company for residential development, ahead of the 2012 Olympics – is characteristic of the city’s propensity towards “enclave living”. This means a high security presence, which accepts those with the capital to invest, and rejects those who are deemed a threat to the safety and security of its residents. Such projects have caused urban spaces to be splintered. Those who lack the desire or means to engage with the consumer economy are stigmatised as “unwanted”.

London looking welcoming. Image: diamond geezer/Flickr/creative commons.

This process of securitisation has been fuelled by fear of attacks on popular sporting events, such as the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon and the targeting of Paris' Stade de France in November 2015. Planning committees have been burdened with the impossible task of preventing such attacks, by building security into the infrastructure, planning, organisation and practices associated with mega-events.

5. International prestige

Hosting a mega-event can create buzz, offer the chance for a positive re-brand or garner international prestige. But it can also draw unwanted attention and bad press. Host nations often obscure human rights violations, but will find it more difficult to manage the high-profile political and economic problems associated with international organisations like the IOC. For example, political scandals have recently tarnished the reputations of sporting bodies such as FIFA and the IAAF.

By being more aware of the potential pitfalls of hosting mega-events, residents are in a better position to engage with the bidding process – or to resist it, like those involved in the “No Boston Olympics” campaign. Instead of grasping at opportunities to host the Olympics, city authorities are getting better at considering how the games actually fit with their priorities – or if they do at all. This can only be a good thing.

Bryan C. Clift is a lecturer in the Department for Health, Humanities & Social Sciences, and Andrew Manley a lecturer in the Department for Health, at the University of Bath.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

“Stop worrying about hairdressers”: The UK government has misdiagnosed its productivity problem

We’re going as fast as we can, here. Image: Getty.

Gonna level with you here, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I’m a huge fan of schadenfreude, so learning that it the government has messed up in a previously unsuspected way gives me this sort of warm glow inside. On the other hand, the way it’s been screwing up is probably making the country poorer, and exacerbating the north south divide. So, mixed reviews really.

Here’s the story. This week the Centre for Cities (CfC) published a major report on Britain’s productivity problem. For the last 200 years, ever since the industrial revolution, this country has got steadily richer. Since the financial crash, though, that seems to have stopped.

The standard narrative on this has it that the problem lies in the ‘long tail’ of unproductive businesses – that is, those that produce less value per hour. Get those guys humming, the thinking goes, and the productivity problem is sorted.

But the CfC’s new report says that this is exactly wrong. The wrong tail: Why Britain’s ‘long tail’ is not the cause of its productivity problems (excellent pun, there) delves into the data on productivity in different types of businesses and different cities, to demonstrate two big points.

The first is that the long tail is the wrong place to look for productivity gains. Many low productivity businesses are low productivity for a reason:

The ability of manufacturing to automate certain processes, or the development of ever more sophisticated computer software in information and communications have greatly increased the output that a worker produces in these industries. But while a fitness instructor may use a smartphone today in place of a ghetto blaster in 1990, he or she can still only instruct one class at a time. And a waiter or waitress can only serve so many tables. Of course, improvements such as the introduction of handheld electronic devices allow orders to be sent to the kitchen more efficiently, will bring benefits, but this improvements won’t radically increase the output of the waiter.

I’d add to that: there is only so fast that people want to eat. There’s a physical limit on the number of diners any restaurant can actually feed.

At any rate, the result of this is that it’s stupid to expect local service businesses to make step changes in productivity. If we actually want to improve productivity we should focus on those which are exporting services to a bigger market.  There are fewer of these, but the potential gains are much bigger. Here’s a chart:

The y-axis reflects number of businesses at different productivities, shown on the x-axis. So bigger numbers on the left are bad; bigger numbers on the right are good. 

The question of which exporting businesses are struggling to expand productivity is what leads to the report’s second insight:

Specifically it is the underperformance of exporting businesses in cities outside of the Greater South East that causes not only divergences across the country in wages and standards of living, but also hampers national productivity. These cities in particular should be of greatest concern to policy makers attempting to improve UK productivity overall.

In other words, it turned out, again, to the north-south divide that did it. I’m shocked. Are you shocked? This is my shocked face.

The best way to demonstrate this shocking insight is with some more graphs. This first one shows the distribution of productivity in local services business in four different types of place: cities in the south east (GSE) in light green, cities in the rest of the country (RoGB) in dark green, non-urban areas in the south east in purple, non-urban areas everywhere else in turquoise.

The four lines are fairly consistent. The light green, representing south eastern cities has a lower peak on the left, meaning slightly fewer low productivity businesses, but is slightly higher on the right, meaning slightly more high productivity businesses. In other words, local services businesses in the south eastern cities are more productive than those elsewhere – but the gap is pretty narrow. 

Now check out the same graph for exporting businesses:

The differences are much more pronounced. Areas outside those south eastern cities have many more lower productivity businesses (the peaks on the left) and significantly fewer high productivity ones (the lower numbers on the right).

In fact, outside the south east, cities are actually less productive than non-urban areas. This is really not what you’d expect to see, and no a good sign for the health of the economy:

The report also uses a few specific examples to illustrate this point. Compare Reading, one of Britain’s richest medium sized cities, with Hull, one of its poorest:

Or, looking to bigger cities, here’s Bristol and Sheffield:

In both cases, the poorer northern cities are clearly lacking in high-value exporting businesses. This is a problem because these don’t just provide well-paying jobs now: they’re also the ones that have the potential to make productivity gains that can lead to even better jobs. The report concludes:

This is a major cause for concern for the national economy – the underperformance of these cities goes a long way to explain both why the rest of Britain lags behind the Greater South East and why it performs poorly on a

European level. To illustrate the impact, if all cities were as productive as those in the Greater South East, the British economy would be 15 per cent more productive and £225bn larger. This is equivalent to Britain being home to four extra city economies the size of Birmingham.

In other words, the lesson here is: stop worrying about the productivity of hairdressers. Start worrying about the productivity of Hull.


You can read the Centre for Cities’ full report here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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